Does a Buddhist temple function as a commercial business or is it more or less home for its monk?
Attorneys called their first witnesses to the stand Tuesday in a civil suit that aims to answer that question and in the process decide the fate of New Braunfels’ only Buddhist temple.
Gerry Meyer, the Ashby Acres Subdivision resident suing the neighboring Dao Tam Buddhist Temple, was the first on the stand, followed by monk Hung Van Nguyen, and then by temple member and representative Anh Dang.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Meyer’s attorney, Paul Fletcher started his opening arguments. “Those at Dao Tam temple want to use (their acts of kindness) to excuse their violations of the deed restrictions.”
The deed restrictions limit lot use to residential use, with limited commercial and agricultural use allowed as well. Meyer’s main argument against the temple is that it breaks the deed restrictions by operating primarily as a commercial facility, rather than a residential lot.
Michael Morris, who is defending the temple, argued Meyer hasn’t lived on the lot the full time he’s owned it, but has used it for his electric business.
Morris said only about 14 hours — 8% of the head monk’s time per week — is spent in leading or performing worship, while the other 92% of the monk’s time is dedicated to residential or limited agricultural activities.
“In 2014, Mr. Meyer got tired of paying for (the easement road on his property). So instead he wanted the five lots of Ashby Acres to become an HOA — an HOA he wanted to control because he wanted votes to be based on a property’s dollar value, which he would have the most of,” Morris said. “The HOA was a failure. Everyone read it and no one signed it, and Mr. Meyer decided it was the temple’s fault and those against him must suffer his wrath.”
Meyer said the Buddhist temple’s activities impact him.
“The worst impact is the fact it’s there,” Meyer said. “It’s the first thing you see when you’re coming into the subdivision or to drive up to my home.”
Meyer said he’s seen visitors come and go, and on the nights of the temple’s festivals, he can hear music playing.
“Any commercial act must take place during normal daylight business hours, but the temple — they use it all the time, there’s people there after dark every week,” Meyer said.
During the monk’s testimony, he said some members do occasionally come pray with him between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., but it’s typically only about one or two people — occasionally, he will have four or five.
“We have four festivals a year,” Nguyen said through a translator. “Our worship services are every Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.”
In total, the monk only leads worship services about 56 times a year — 52 Sundays, and four festival days — or about 15% of all the days of the year, Morris said.
“That means about 85% of the year, the monk is simply using this land as his residence,” Morris said.
During Dang’s time on the stand, she was asked by Fletcher why then, if the temple wasn’t breaking deed restrictions, did she first seek out legal action to change the deed? Email correspondence with a lawyer between her and said lawyer was shown as evidence.
“I was trying to avoid a costly lawsuit,” Dang said.
Dang previously told the Herald-Zeitung the temple functions solely on donations, and the lawsuit was already costing more than they could handle.
To argue the temple is not a business, but is a nonprofit religious organization exempt from taxes, Dang said the monk doesn’t receive a salary.
“After the fire in 2016, we all pooled our money together to get the temple built,” Dang said. “It’s all from all of us members coming together and pitching in.”
The case will continue into Wednesday before District Judge Dwight Peschel in Seguin before a jury of Guadalupe County residents.
Should Meyer win the case, he is requesting the temple be removed and that the temple and Hun Van Nguyen pay him back for legal fees.
In the temple’s response to the petition, Morris seeks the Buddhists be paid back for their legal fees, should they win.
The temple is at 1410 W. Klein Road, New Braunfels. For more information about the temple, visit www.daotambuddhisttemple.com.